Number 19 - December 5, 2002
The size of the type may be changed by clicking on view at the top of
your browser and selecting "text size". The document will
print in the size you select.
December 1, events in Washington, DC and around the world commemorated
World AIDS Day. Throughout this week we focus on the terrible toll this
plague has taken, and continues to take, in our communities, across
our country, and worldwide. It is a time when we reflect on our shared
vulnerability in the face of this greatest global threat to human security.
A mere two decades
since its discovery, AIDS has become the worst health crisis in the
history of the world. The toll of the disease is staggering. More than
24 million people worldwide have died. At least 40 million more are
currently living with HIV/AIDS. New estimates from the United Nations,
the Center for Disease Control, and others, indicate that the global
pandemic is still in its infancy. They warn of rising infection rates
and the impending devastation of entire countries.
The theme of this
year's World AIDS Day is the elimination of stigma and discrimination.
This is sadly appropriate, for it is now clear that, while AIDS can
be beaten, the world is losing the battle because of these prejudices.
By stigmatizing those living with HIV/AIDS, societies seek to distance
themselves from the disease, rejecting the notion that this is everyone's
problem. And it is blatant discrimination - on the basis of race, class,
gender and sexual orientation - when governments deny the urgency of
this global crisis because of who the victims are.
Africa is "ground
zero" of the global AIDS crisis. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to
just over 10% of the world's population, but more than 75% of the world's
HIV/AIDS cases. Africa has been hit hardest by HIV/AIDS because poverty
has left its people most vulnerable, and because racism has impeded
an urgent international response. This year alone, 3 million Africans
will die of AIDS. This is equivalent to the entire population of Chicago.
Here in the U.S.,
it is also Black people who have been disproportionately affected by
HIV/AIDS. While the availability of anti-AIDS treatments has cut the
death rate in recent years, infection rates remain especially high among
communities of color. Though African-Americans represent only an estimated
12% of the total U.S. population, they make up almost 38% of all HIV/AIDS
cases reported in this country. In 2000, the rate of reported AIDS cases
among African Americans was more than twice the rate for Hispanics and
8 times the rate for whites.
Here in Washington,
DC, the rate of HIV/AIDS is 12 times the national average. Almost 1
in 20 D.C. residents are living with HIV/AIDS. African-Americans represent
60% of DC's population, but more than 75% of its HIV/AIDS cases.
In Georgia, HIV/AIDS
has also been disproportionately concentrated in the Black community.
Blacks represent just 28% of Georgia's population, but accounted for
over 76% of its AIDS cases this year. In California, Blacks make up
less than 7% of the population, but account for almost 24% of people
living with HIV/AIDS.
In Houston, the
AIDS rate has risen dramatically in the past year, particularly in the
Black community. While the "state of emergency" declaration
by Mayor Lee Brown in 1999 has encouraged more people to get tested,
and to get treated, the HIV/AIDS rate among Blacks remains disproportionately
high. Up to 60% of HIV infections in Harris County have been among Black
people. New York City is home to 3% of the U.S. population, but 16%
of its HIV/AIDS cases. There are more people living with HIV/AIDS in
New York City than in any other metropolitan area - more than Los Angeles,
San Francisco and Miami combined. There are almost twice as many HIV/AIDS
cases among Blacks as among whites.
It is the same factors
that fuel the AIDS crisis everywhere. Poverty and inadequate access
to health care leave particular communities vulnerable. Discrimination
and racism enforce double standards that devalue the lives of people
living with the disease and those at greatest risk. AIDS has become
the Black plague. For while it is a global threat that does not differentiate
by race or class, and is not confined by borders, the fact is that it
is mainly killing Black people. And this is the simple reason why this
disease has been allowed to develop into a massive global health crisis,
when it can, in fact, be defeated
Last year, world
leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York to adopt a global
strategy to defeat HIV/AIDS. They supported the creation of a new Global
Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, a "war chest" that would raise and
disburse new monies to support effective HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment
programs in the world's poorest countries. It seemed that the international
community was finally ready to make the necessary, and overdue, financial
commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS. However, the new Global Fund has been
undermined from the outset by the stinginess of rich country governments.
This vehicle, which represents the best chance for defeating the global
AIDS crisis, is now almost bankrupt, because the U.S. government refuses
to contribute its fair share to the war on AIDS.
AIDS will not be
beaten without a strong global commitment and a massive injection of
resources. This must be directed to support the efforts of those most
affected by the pandemic, particularly in Africa, the epicenter of the
global crisis. So far, the U.S. government has failed to demonstrate
the leadership it will require to win this war on AIDS.
Secretary of State
Colin Powell recently accepted the position of the AIDS activist community,
declaring that "the biggest problem that we have on the face of
the earth today" is the HIV/AIDS pandemic, not terrorism. If rhetoric
were resources, we could applaud such forthrightness.
The observance of
World AIDS Day emphasizes the truly global nature of this pandemic.
And it reminds us that the solution needs to be equally global.
is executive director of Africa Action, the oldest human rights advocacy
organization on African affairs in the US. www.africaaction.org